Technical details about Intel Optane Memory quietly announced, coming to 7th Gen Core Processors first

Posted by Paul Braren on Feb 19 2017 (updated on Feb 27 2017) in
  • Storage
  • Backstory - M.2 NVMe arrives in 2015

    I began talking about NVMe back in 2014, with over a thousand mentions since. It's been a big deal for the home lab/home datacenter, working particular well with VMware's ESXi hypervisor on Xeon D, blessed with full-speed PCIe 3.0 x 4 in that tiny M.2 form factor, and options to expand beyond recently multiplying.

    Before M.2 NVMe, ESXi often used RAID controllers to obtain decent queue depths for ESXi performance at reasonable prices

    TinkerTry-Queue-Depth-Samsung-960-EVO
    See the Queue Depth column.

    You see, it turned out you often needed a powerful and pricey RAID controller with higher queue depths to get good performance, the kind of performance you'd not get close to with consumer gear typically equipped with SATA over SAS. I've written dozens of articles at TinkerTry about the LSI 9265-8i RAID controller dating back to 2011, ending around 2014. I was valiantly attempting to get reliable and affordable SSD caching of reads and writes. Almost like an early one-host VMware vSAN (formerly Virtual SAN), you could say.

    M.2 NVMe changed everything for the virtualization enthusiast

    NVMeStack

    Source: Intel.

    With the arrival of M.2 NVMe, finally anybody could get a queue depth of 1024 in their ESXi home labs, with none of that legacy overhead of (queue depth 32) SATA3. Take the well-regarded Samsung 950 PRO, which "just worked" with any ESXi since 5.5 using the built-in NVMe driver. Unlike Intel's 750 Series, the 850 PRO didn't even need a offer a separate faster driver, and those speeds were a big leap forward, see:

    While Samsung's next generation cooler-running 960 PRO/EVO launch has been bumpy for some, I'm confident those early adopter glitches are likely to be worked out.

    Enter Optane/3D XPoint

    So it was with several weeks of great NVMe experiences that I headed to Boston about a year ago, to attend an Intel presentation about Optane Memory, see:

    intel-releasing-m2-nvme-late-2016-and-3d-xpoint-early-2017

    Here's some notes I wrote in that story, about what I learned that night:

    • 3D XPoint Technology
    • 3D XPoint may have 2H2016 seeding, with availability late in 2016 or early 2017.
    • We know 3D XPoint will be more costly than NVMe.
    • Intel co-developed 3D XPoint with Micron.
    • 3D XPoint is DIMM form factor.
    • Intel plans to offer an NVMe storage in the M.2 form factor!

    Info we have for today

    Now that we're closer to launch, we now know the constraints and requirements. Let's start with some links:

    Optane Overview Page:

    featured

    and finally, the new teaser video.

    Optane-Video

    There's a lot to take in, and this article is just an introduction.

    Thoughts about what we may have tomorrow

    When will Xeon processors and the datacenter have Optane shipping in quantity, and deployed into production? Not sure. Samples have already to ship to partners, see Intel Has Started Shipping Optane Memory Modules:

    Intel has begun shipping Optane memory modules to its partners for testing. This year should see the launch of both these enterprise products designed for servers as well as tiny application accelerator M.2 solid state drives based on the Intel and Micron joint 3D memory venture. The modules that Intel is shipping are the former type of Optane memory and will be able to replace DDR4 DIMMs (RAM) with a memory solution that is not as fast but is cheaper and has much larger storage capacities. The Optane modules are designed to slot into DDR4 type memory slots on server boards.

    IsJrx7E8
    PC Perspective 437 02/15/17 Optane discussion.

    I think the real question for home lab enthusiasts is when will the price come down for larger capacities to be somewhat affordable. I suspect that could very well take years, but I will surely still interesting to follow this technology as it grows up.

    What might this all mean for the ESXi enthusiast? Well, Core i7 hasn't been on the VMware HCL for years now, but that's where Optane support arrives first. That's right, it's more than just an M.2 NVMe slot needed, you also need a system design and BIOS that supports Optane. That means you'll be looking for the 'Intel® Optane™ memory ready’ label.

    Given it sure looks a lot like an Intel RST/RSTe-like Intel® Rapid Storage Technology caching solution that relies on Windows drivers, I also have my doubts whether Optane as a drive cache would ever work as a caching layer for VMware's ESXi, however. It's the use-cases afterward that are likely of most interest.

    I haven't spotted detailed Optane capable Xeon desktop/server plans yet in the M.2 form factor, with no mentions of both Xeon and Optane anywhere on intel.com. There is mention out there of support for Mobile Xeon, and of course, there's the enterprise (costly) Optane-as-storage PCIe card coming soon at 375GB capacity, the P4800X Series, rumored speeds discussed in comparison to NVMe here.

    xpoint-optane-arrives-in-lenovo-laptops

    So keep in mind that Optane is starting out more affordably as just a very fast and small (16GB or 32GB) caching layer for storage in consumer PCs called Storage Accelerator, see:

    One interesting use case could be for folks with a slower but larger 2.5" SATA based SSD, like my 2 TB Samsung 850 EVO for example. The idea would be to boost speeds using Optane as a cache, to obtain speeds for day-to-day use that would be much closer to NVMe. See also my recent, closely-related article:

    Meanwhile, have a listen to Allyn Malventano's analysis of Optane, featured in this recent PC Perspective 437 02/15/17 podcast, at this spot.


    Feb 24 2017 Update

    It occured to me that a cheet sheet for acronyms is needed. These are all technologies you'll be hearing a lot more about in the future, including:

    • NVM - non-volatile memory. Source.

    • NVDIMM - Non-Volatile Dual In-line Memory Module. Source.

    • NGNVM - Next Generation Non Volatile Memory. Source.

    • RRAM or ReRAM - Resistive random-access memory. Source.

    See also at TinkerTry

    pcie-to-m2-nvme-accessories-overview

    See also

    IfnYxxIM

    So, remember that Optane Overview Page we started this article with? Here's an excerpt form that page, to help you start to get to know what Optane is claiming it can do in the near-term, in the consumer marketplace, on the Kaby Lake/ 270 chipset motherboards that have already begun to arrive:

    High speed

    Wake your computer instantly, search and find files in a flash, and save large files quickly. A hard disk drive coupled with Intel® Optane™ memory affordably gives you SSD-like speed while maintaining large-storage capacity.

    Amazing responsiveness

    Optimize your computer responsiveness from system boot to application launch. A computer with a 7th Gen Intel® Core™ processor coupled with Intel® Optane™ memory delivers amazing desktop responsiveness so you can work or plan without delays.

    Revolutionary technology

    Now is the time to get excited about a new computer. After 25 years, a revolutionary new class of memory affordably accelerates your system making your computer experience fast, smooth, and easy.

    Affordable performance with HDD capacity

    Combine Intel® Optane™ memory with an HDD to affordably get SSD performance while maintaining HDD capacity.

    Platform confidence

    With a 7th Gen Intel® Core™ processor and Intel® Optane™ memory, your pc will deliver snappy responsiveness and high-speed performance even for your most demanding applications.

    Intel reliability

    Delivered by Intel, one of the industry's most trusted technology innovators, this new class of non-volatile memory is backed by over 30 years of memory expertise and global leadership in technology innovation and processor manufacturing.

    Intelligent system acceleration

    Quickly access key files. Intelligent software automatically learns your computing behaviors to accelerate frequent tasks.

    optane-memory
    Click the image to jump to the full source article at Intel.